Updated: Sep 21, 2022
There’s a tiny bit of a difference between being in the creative domain and turning that into a business. The moment you begin thinking of your fashion design studio as a place where supply chains come to life, there are several aspects to look at beyond doing just the creative work.
Where should I source my suppliers and manufacturers from?
How can I build a memorable brand?
How can I ensure that an entire team stays on track with the brand’s vision?
How do I bring internal and external stakeholders such as brand consultants, design experts, and marketing managers to the same table?
There is no correct or wrong way to do this, and many creative professionals become entrepreneurs quite naturally. However, it always helps to have a few milestones along the way so you can measure progress and know what’s next on the agenda. With that in mind, this article is designed to help you come up with the components that will eventually make up your fashion brand.
Fashion branding is a whole different ballgame, and traditional branding principles often need to be reconsidered to get them just right. This is because fashion as an industry is full of thriving and new brands- there is almost no scope for securing the first-mover advantage in such a scenario. Plus, fashion trends come and go, and brands striving for consistency often struggle to match market expectations with the brand’s original story, thus losing their way. A brand consultant who has worked extensively in fashion retail is often your best bet for someone on your team who will give you sound, actionable advice. Once they are on board, here are a few things you might want to discuss.
1. The Brand Story: While many people make the mistake of assuming that a story is born of the product, the exact opposite is actually true. Every product makes its way into the market to solve a problem or address a need. Branding workshops and exercises are dedicated to finding this story- the values, pillars, and principles that make up every single company. Often, brand values often match those held by the founders. In a niche that changes as fast as fashion, it is worth separating the brand purpose from the founder’s vision. This way, the entity is more flexible to market forces.
It is difficult to adjust and evaluate culture as you go along, so the first step in setting up a brand identity should always be to figure out what it stands for. This way, communication to all stakeholders is clear and compelling even several years down the line.
2. Brand Collaterals: Usually, the work of a brand consultant is clearly cut out. Not only do they develop the story, but they also think through visuals and elements that will likely make the brand stand out. The logo is one aspect of this. It is important that your brand consultant be the one to work on these elements as well to avoid getting lost in communication.
For instance, some people choose to go with a new designer once the brand story is created. However, this approach often fails because the new designer does not have access to the same kind of information, or insight, as the person who first figured out the story. Hence, always retain all work with one expert and their team.
Brand collaterals themselves can include a huge list of things- signage, visual communication in a store, letterheads, stamps, visiting cards, stationery beyond the usual, digital presence, brand guidelines and a style guide, the type and fonts to be used, packaging material, garment labels, etc. Beyond this, you will also have standard requirements such as the size chart you follow, accurate garment care information, etc. Consider which of these adapts you need and which ones you can do away with for now. Focus only on those elements that you need in the next year or so, so as to keep costs to a minimum.
3. The Market: At the end of the day, you are selling to the world outside. The intent behind the branding exercise so far is to help you connect with this audience. Therefore, identifying who your customers are is an essential part of the process.
For fashion brands, consumer personas are a lifesaver because they accurately tell you whom you need to target and who you can avoid. For example, Forever 21 is a brand that is clearly aimed at the young shopper. Everything from their name to the store layout and sizing makes this clear. As a new brand, you may be unwilling to take the risk of alienating some prospects. However, doing the consumer persona exercise will tell you if your approach is foolproof or has flaws in it.
Like branding, a consumer persona exercise is best done in the company of an expert brand and marketing consultant. Today, there is both the scope and the need to go beyond the demographic data and look at psychographics- the thought attributes that influence buying behavior. This is particularly relevant in the case of fashion brands that have more than one collection aimed at different target markets.
The source of such information can be anything from market research, surveys and a soft launch to studying competitors and their traffic patterns to identify an overlap.
4. The Suppliers: For any design to translate into reality, you need suppliers and manufacturers. From the base material to the embellishments and until someone to put it together, it is your vision that needs to come through clearly.
On the supplier end, the networks are often very strong. Most supplier businesses work through recommendations and word-of-mouth marketing. They may have a basic presence on the internet but that may not always be accurate.
One way to find manufacturers and suppliers is to use listing directories like Yellow Pages, Merchant Circle, Yelp, Justdial and the like. Cold call them, meet them and see if their levels of efficiency match your vision. A better way is to ask friends in the industry for vendors they trust.
When evaluating someone for fabric sourcing, always ask where they get their material from and cross-verify this information. Ensure that you ask for customer references and speak to these people, so you know what to expect in the areas of delivery, timelines and quality. Think through the option of bringing a startup fashion expert on board to help provide such recommendations and to tell you what other aspects you’d need to negotiate on.
5. The Sales Channel: The moment you think of setting up a fashion business, you probably already have an idea of which sales channel(s) you would like to utilize. In any case, once all of the other blocks are in place, spend the time to evaluate that choice.
Particularly, are your customers more likely to buy in-store or online? Would they prefer, instead, to browse in a physical location and then buy online? Such questions help you decide if you need to open more stores/ sales channels than you had initially planned for. It is always better to do it right the very first time.
In the second part of this article, we plunge right into marketing, and accounting best practices. In the meantime, what other advice do you think you’d need before starting a fashion brand? Tell us in the comments so we can address these issues.
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Fuel4Fashion is a design, branding and technology consultancy for the fashion and apparel industry. We provide consulting and advisory services across design, business and IT processes to early stage and mid-sized apparel manufacturers and brands looking to grow their business with the help of smart sustainable management practices. Visit our website here and follow us on Instagram and LinkedIn for regular updates.